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The Best Way to Practice Your Instrument

Posted by Kimberly Hankins on
The Best Way to Practice Your Instrument

... is to not practice. 

Ok, maybe its not that extreme. But I think sometimes we are so overwhelmed with messages from ourselves and others that tell us we aren’t ‘good enough’ -or that what we have to say as an artist ‘isn’t enough,’ that we forget to take a step back and make an actionable plan to move through that criticism. It’s easy to take these messages personally and let it negatively effect everything that you are trying to accomplish.

The reality is that your body is your first instrument.

Let that sink in for a moment.. I know many people have heard something similar in a movement for musicians class (like Alexander Technique), but think about what the implications of this really are. 

Here are a few realizations I’ve had over the last few years:

1. The way we take care of ourselves effects the way we interact with our musical instrument

2. The internal messages we tell ourselves can effect the way we interact with our musical instrument

3. The way we understand how our body moves in three-dimensional space effects the way we interact with our musical instrument

4. The way we perceive ourselves effects the way we interact with our musical instrument

5. The way we communicate with others and present ourselves as individuals effects the way we interact with our musical instrument


Therefore, there are ways to dramatically improve your playing that do not involve the viola (or whatever instrument you play) at all.


This last summer, I decided to detox from all the negative messages I was telling myself in the practice room. I knew I had some unnecessary physical tension in my playing, and the source was completely psychological.

I started with a simple idea to take a break from practicing - I ended up taking about 2 months off. Then came up with a plan to practice small amounts of time being hyper-aware of my technique and remaining free in my neck and shoulders. If I became aware of any negative self talk AT ALL during my practice time, I put my viola down and did something that made me feel good (like take a walk or make a cup of tea). I supplemented this with a short meditation session before my practice time, because I truly believe that practicing is a form of meditation.

I was careful NOT to introduce affirmations, because affirmations are often a way to hide your anxiety or insecurity without actually improving it at the source.

In the beginning of this experiment, I could not make it more that a few minutes of practice time before that negative self-talk appeared. But every day it got just a little bit better. I didn’t push myself, but tried to find ways of being critical without being negative. And it WORKED. A month and a half later I appeared as a guest artist at Vianden Music Festival, and I never felt more confident in my abilities as a performer. I had a new sense of calm and control over what I was doing that I never had before, and most importantly I didn’t have that awful, relentless internal dialogue telling me how I was going to fail. 

Had I not taken the time to go through this process, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all the things I did this semester.


So I encourage you this holiday season, as students wrap up their finals week, and us gig musicians look forward to our Messiah and Nutcracker performances on repeat, that you reflect on the way you take care of your first instrument -YOU. And create some actionable steps to improve for the new year. 

Feel free to ask me questions, or share your own ideas!

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